Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

Somewhere down the road of growing your business, I’m sure you have heard the phrase “all publicity is good publicity.” It sounds good and makes sense on a surface level, especially since most of us don’t get the publicity we feel our business deserves. Surely, that interview with the local news, Google Hangout, or blog write up will help your business build the brand recognition you need, right? Well, ideally yes but unfortunately I find that’s not often the case. Here’s why:

Control Everything

Working with a wide variety businesses especially tech startups, I see this scenario play out all the time. They work night and day developing awesomeness and finally get a call that someone wants to do a write up on their product! Boom! They get super excited and readily agree. Once the interview is in place and the questions start rolling, they quickly realize how ill-prepared they really are. How do you keep this from happening to you? Find out what their goal is for the interview or write up! What kinds of questions will they be asking? Is there a need, or specific answer to a question that they(the interviewer) is wanting to achieve? Have a list of specific questions that you would like to answer. If it’s a hangout or video that will be published online, is there specific branding imagery that needs to be included, or excluded? I find this last question especially applies to those businesses that are trying to shake up the status quo. If your business or product is at all in the edgy category, you better have ALL your ducks in a row.


Don’t be afraid to say NO

As a marketer, I am a studier and enthusiast in the field of Operant Conditioning and more specifically, I’m a big fan of Kevin Keller’s Brand Equity Model. In this model it is theorized that any interaction that the consumer has with a brand results in either a positive or negative change in perception. This change in perception is what directly affects their long term purchasing likelihood. This is why it is critical that any PR opportunities you take part in must only touch on the positive brand points that you identify for your business and no others. Be unapologetic with your core values for public relations. I find this is many times where good PR goes wrong. This is also why having a clear identification of your target market is key. Any PR function should be an extension of your companies marketing goals. If your publicity opportunity doesn’t meet your exact needs, goals, and guidelines; just say no. After all, there’s always more fish in the sea, right?


What have been your experiences with public relations? Have you ever had a potentially great PR experience turn into a nightmare? I would love to hear it in the comments section. 

Hollywood Spin: Great Movies Pulling Back the Curtain on PR

The West Wing was one of the first shows that treated the communications/PR profession with some class. Allison Janney’s character was one to watch. She was thorough, principled, and savvy enough to know when she was being played by both sides. And I *loved* that the top-notch PR role model was a woman. C.J. Cregg was my hero as I began my PR career.


Hollywood tends to gloss over the unhappy endings though, and there is always a potential for an unhappy ending in the world of PR. Public relations has the ability to sway the masses your way or to turn them completely against you (and this can happen regardless of what is factually sound).


Here are my top picks for Hollywood movies that pull back the curtain on the sometimes mysterious world of public relations:


  1. All The President’s Men—Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman set a new standard for showing how journalism interacts with public relations and its practitioners. This movie practically serves as a step-by-step re-enactment on the role two obscure reporters for the Washington Post played in the Watergate political scandal. The fallout included talks of impeachment; though ultimately President Richard Nixon resigned instead.
  2. The Queen—Helen Mirren’s performance was indeed Oscar-worthy. Her portrayal of Her Royal Highness following the untimely death of her former daughter-in-law and mother to the future king of England, Princess Diana, showed how difficult it can be to direct those who live in ivory towers during a crisis. Prime Minister Tony Blair is trying to advise Her Majesty on what her people need and expect from the Royal Family during this time of national grief but the Queen can’t bring herself to empathize with the grieving masses. The Royal PR team has been instructed to put distance between the Royal House of Windsor and Princess Diana after the messy divorce from Prince Charles. But the people have not forgotten their Princess and mourn her death very publicly in the streets. All the while, Blair tries to convince Queen Elizabeth to show some emotion—any emotion—before a PR nightmare ensues. It’s a great example of how you are not your audience. And in times of crises, being human is more important than being right.
  3. Thank You for Smoking—The audience can’t help but pull for rascally Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhardt) who portrays a glib tobacco lobbyist, but comes off as more of a publicist. The kicker here is Naylor doesn’t even deny the inherent and proven health risks of smoking. On the contrary, he defends the cigarette industry. Considering how much Gen X’ers and beyond have been preached to about the sins of smoking, this film is a great example of spin at work (p.s. PR professionals hate that word).


Honourable mentions go to 2 movies displaying polar opposite views of the communications/PR profession:

Michael Clayton—Tilda Swinton as Karen Crowder presents us with a new face of betrayal. The steely coolness of a female lawyer who will stop at nothing to protect her client—even if it means lying, accepting a bribe, and attempted murder. This movie is all about the dark side of public relations and advocacy. (Interestingly enough, another George Clooney movie, The Ides of March, is equally dark and scathing. The audience is given a front row seat at how much backroom negotiation and posturing go on behind seemingly closed doors at election time. With stellar performances by Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Paul Giamatti this film portrays political strategists (usually former PR wonks) as soulless with a complete disregard for ethics or the truth. It’s only the truth if it helps your candidate destroy the opponent, collateral damage be damned.

Charlotte’s Web—Most of us have read this cherished story as a child. But consider this angle as an adult: Great PR saved Wilbur’s life. Written by E.B. White, co-author of the definitive PR and journalism guide The Elements of Style, this movie should inspire all PR practitioners and communicators to hold high their professional code of conduct and push us to strive for excellence.


Public relations and communications as professions can open up opportunities to shape policy, public opinion, and change behaviours. Practitioners can and do influence many decisions affecting most of us in some way, shape or form. Influence and how these professionals wield it become the difference between creating spin or creating an environment ripe for education and transformation.